In this brand new book, America’s greatest music writer pulls together a career-worth of commentary about America’s greatest songwriter.
With Bob Dylan, Greil Marcus offers up insights and criticisms, notions and associations about pop music’s greatest singer/songwriter. Perhaps no writer is as closely associated with a musical artist as Marcus is with Dylan and this new volume covers nearly half-a-century of Marcus’ – and Dylan’s – greatest hits.
In the book’s introduction, Marcus states “I was never interested in figuring out what the songs meant. I was interested in figuring out my response to them.” A great critic can be also be an inspired creator and Marcus found a muse when he discovered Dylan’s music as an 18-year-old when he attended a Joan Baez concert. While Marcus’ freewheeling, associative analysis can be too much for some readers, it’s writing worthy of the subject. After all, many people find Dylan’s poetry impenetrable as well. In truth, Marcus possesses the adroitness of thinking, the linguistic facility and the stylistic audacity necessary to take in Dylan’s timeless music on its own terms before shaping it to his inspired purposes.
Describing that first Dylan show Marcus writes, “…I was confused… something in his demeanor dared you to pin him down, to sum him up and write him off, and you couldn’t do it.” Of course the joke here is that this could very well be a reader’s first reaction to one of Marcus’ takes on a particular Dylan album or lyric. In fact, Marcus’ angle on Dylan is an important touchstone for anyone interested in diving deeper into Dylan’s catalog. This volume traces an arc from 1968 to the present day, and it’s the critic’s writings on this most recent Dylan – since 1992′s Good as I Been to You – that hold the most surprises.
If all we had were Marcus’ writings on Dylan’s music with The Band, we’d count ourselves lucky. Having a commentator with the insight and skills necessary to put Dylan’s oeuvre in a critical context for more than four decades has been an unlikely blessing for all of us infidels. And having the entirety of Marcus’ commentary gathered in one volume reminds me of that handful of rain Dylan sang about in “Visions of Johanna”: It cannot be defied.
Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus
October 19, 2010
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